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Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s

(The Midwife Trilogy #1)

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  46,772 ratings  ·  5,807 reviews
Call the Midwife' is a most extraordinary book and should be required reading of all students of midwifery, nursing, sociology and modern history. It tells of the experiences of a young trainee midwife in the East End of London in the 1950's and is a graphic portrayal of the quite appalling conditions that the East Enders endured.
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published 2007 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published 2002)
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Jo I think that a teen could handle this. The disturbing content referred to is actually about a teenager; I tend to think that if a teenager can survive…moreI think that a teen could handle this. The disturbing content referred to is actually about a teenager; I tend to think that if a teenager can survive the actual experience, a teenager can survive (and would likely benefit from) reading about it. Removing any troubling content from the book would lead to an inaccurate and "sanitized" rather than true portrait of the author's experience and the experiences of the women she encountered in her work, which would be a loss for the reader. (less)
Melissa I think it follows the series pretty closely apart from which midwife is the central character. Jenny Lee is surely the protagonist in each chapter of…moreI think it follows the series pretty closely apart from which midwife is the central character. Jenny Lee is surely the protagonist in each chapter of her own memoir but for character development, these stories are not given to her exclusively in the adaptation. I don't find this to be a fault of the show as the the other characters actually become more intriguing to me as time goes on. (less)

Community Reviews

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4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  46,772 ratings  ·  5,807 reviews

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Corinne Edwards
Having given birth with the support of a midwife three times, when I heard about this one, I knew I had to make time to read it. The Midwife is the memoir of Jennifer Worth (“Jenny”) and her experiences in the East End Slums of post-war London. I think three things come together to make this a very interesting book.

First, the voice of Jenny. She is candid and real - her storytelling doesn't sugar-coat her experiences or her mistakes. She never pretends that the East End was anything other than w
Mar 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm writing this as I'm just about halfway through so I may revise this later. For now, oh man. I have some issues with this book. I started reading it after I watched all of the first season of Call the Midwife on Netflix. I loved the show and got excited to see they were based on actual books.

Maybe my opinion is tainted by the fact that the author states she was trying to be the James Herriot of midwives. But as I've been reading, I've had the impression in many places that she was trying to
Petra CigareX
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read the companion book to this last year and hadn't been able to get this in the US, but now I am in the UK with my terminally-ill mother I took the opportunity to find it. You wouldn't think that the world of the 50s was so different as it is now, but this depiction of the 50s, of bombed-out London, health care where antibiotics were the new miracle drug and children played safely in the streets because there were no cars is truly another world. This, though, is also the story of a young nur ...more
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I liked the setting -- 1950s London -- but I had been wary of reading 300-plus pages about pregnancies and birthing and midwifery. In movies and TV shows, for instance, I hatehatehate childbirth scenes. It's always the same: The mother cries out in pain, the father looks anxious, the doctor sternly gives orders, and then presto! A sweet and wrinkled baby is handed to the parents.*

But "Call the Midwife" (which is also the name of the 2012 BBC seri
I see now that this is the first book of a series:

This book is fun. You are told astounding stories about the author's years working as a midwife at the Nonnatus House Convent in the Docklands during the 1950s. You meet the wonderful Sister Monica Joan, a somewhat "crazy" ninety year-old nun, Conchita Warren who will give birth to both her twenty-forth and twenty-fifth child, the latter premature of only 28 weeks gestation, weighing less than two pounds,
Katrina Noble
Aug 01, 2013 rated it liked it
It was an incredible read that was marred by an obscenely disgusting chapter right smack dab in the middle that made me have to question whether I should continue or not. I did continue after skimming past the incredibly gross part and was glad that I did because the remaining stories were very interesting/unique and the final few were inspirational. I just really hated that such a wonderful read had to be almost ruined entirely by a poor editing choice. Granted this was based on real life exper ...more
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Post war London with its bombed out buildings and slums is the setting for much of this interesting and entertaining non-fiction read. There are so many incredible stories in this memoir by Jennifer Worth that it is difficult to pick a favorite, but I loved Chummy with her big ole heart, old-fashioned bicycle and her hero Jack who, as you will see, did become important in his day. Mary's story of prostitution is sad and touching, but Mrs. Jenkin's surrender to the workhouse is just beyond words. ...more
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have had this series by Jennifer Worth sitting on my bookshelves for a year. My sister in law let me borrow the five books -- Call the Midwife, Farewell to East End, In the Midst of Life, Shadows of the Workhouse and Letters to the Midwife -- because I enjoy the PBS television show. I got so tied up in adulting, working, reading new releases for review and other books on my TBR stack, that the books sat there on the shelf. Then I signed up for a 2018 reading challenge.....Beat the Backlist.... ...more
I decided to read this book because I recently watched the BBC/PBS show "Call the Midwife", which is based on the memoirs by Jennifer Worth. I absolutely fell in love with the TV show-- it has a perfect mix of happy and sad, with great characters.

That being said, I actually came away from the book "Call the Midwife" feeling a little unsatisfied. I certainly enjoyed the stories that she told. Some were heart-breaking, some sweet or funny. I enjoyed the subplot about Jenny discovering a profound
Mar 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh, that I could have six stars to give. . .

Having originally been smitten with this wonderful British TV series, I am now head over heels in love with the book. It's the first of a trilogy which pleases me to no end. I must get my book club to read this.

One of my favorite chapters is about a friendship between Chummy and an adolescent boy. It's barely touched upon on TV. The luncheon party where
Jennifer's three male friends are invited to dine at the convent is pure comic genius. The premature
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think I had that much interest in 1950's East End London or midwifery but after watching the Netflix show on which these novels are based I can say that I find both to be absolutely fascinating. After watching the first two seasons of Call the Midwife which I love, love, love ( I especially adore Chummy) I wanted to know more about Jennifer Worth's life so I picked up this novel, the first in a series of three. The novel did not disappoint. I was pleasantly surprised to find that many o ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a wonderful memoir of a young woman's new life into the midwifery world. It is quite candid in its approach to midwifery, the struggles of women (mostly the poor), and dawn of modern medicine. It is hard to believe that there were never maternity wards in hospitals until the 1950's.

Birth control, or rather the lack of it, was such a dilemma for women who were single, overworked, poor, ill, and/or exhausted.
4.5 stars - Spoilers

I absolutely love the tv show, it's brilliant. I'm so obsessed with it that I decided to check out the book even though I never read non-fiction. I'm really glad I picked it up because it turned out to be a fascinating, heartbreaking, and lovely read.

Random thoughts:

-Summary: Jennifer Worth's memoirs of her time as a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s. There's stories of herself, her patients, and the nuns she lives and works with… And they're all great.

-I really
As a series of vignettes about a very interesting profession in a fascinating historical moment, this book was quick and fun to read. However, I would hesitate to recommend it to friends, because it is not very well written.

Insight is not Worth's strength. The book is sprinkled with tired old saws about men, women, and their relationships. Her obvious compassion for the poor shines through, but does not lead her to recognize or question many of her internalized prejudices; the way she writes abo
Andrea Cox
by Andrea Renee Cox

While I enjoyed the insight into the lives of several midwives during the 1950s, I was disappointed that there were so many inappropriate things in this book. Nudity, expletives, crude talk, graphic sexual content, alcohol, tobacco usage, etc. really dampened my enjoyment of this book. I also didn't appreciate that the author believed older women should be allowed to be crass and rude simply because they'd lived a long life. Since when does longevity grant anyone the right to
Ayelet Waldman
I alternated between wishing I'd had this kind of care and thanking God I hadn't.
I watched the BBC series Call the Midwife before I read this, and knew I would not be able to be objective about it. I already knew all the beautiful people in the book before I started. I wouldn't know where to start if I were to enumerate all of them. Some are nuns, some are young midwives, some are courageous mothers doing their best in impossible situations, some amazing fathers providing and caring for their family in horrendous circumstances, and some piteous brave children surviving the u ...more
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, europe
Tę książkę pochłonęłam w kilka dni. Napisana prostym, bezpretensjonalnym i autentycznym językiem wciąga czytelnika od pierwszych stron. Jennifer Worth opowiada o swoich pierwszych krokach w zawodzie położnej. Szlify zdobywała pod okiem zakonnic z Domu Św. Nonnata, który mieścił się w najbardziej robotniczej dzielnicy Londynu czyli w dokach. Pocz ątkowo spodziewałam się szczegółowych opisów porodów oraz praktyki i nauki autorki, ale ta książka to coś więcej.

Worth opisuje oczywiście porody - wszys
Elena T. (Eleanor26th)
Jennifer Worth, classe 1935, è stata infermiera fino agli anni Settanta riportando, come una sorta di diario/biografia, una trilogia dedicata alla sua esperienza come levatrice a Londra, un successo che ha dato atto ad una trasposizione per una serie tv BBC (“Call the midwife”, validissima).

Con “Chiamate la levatrice” (edizioni Sellerio) della Worth, il lettore entra nella realtà delle Docklands, fatta di giornate lavorative estenuanti e desolazione quotidiana, ma anche di barlumi di allegria do
Apr 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: british
3.5 stars.

I'm a sucker for babies, birth stories, and midwives tales, so I was all set to love this. I found it kind of lacking in coherence, though. It's a collection of loosely linked vignettes and I think it would have benefitted from a better editor.

Some of the stories kind of stood alone, some connected, and there was not much arc connecting the whole book. I found it interesting -- certainly I learned things about London that I had never known before, and much of it was shocking -- but I
Mariaelena Di Gennaro
Dritto dritto nei libri top del 2018! Non vedo l'ora di guardare anche la serie tv!
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
What a heartwarming and at times funny way to visit the seedier side of London's East End slums post WWII. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook with narration by Nicola Barber whose cockney accent is good enough to sound cockney, but yet understandable for those of us who can barely understand a true cockney!

I cried for young Mary who was introduced into prostitution at the tender age of 14 years old; I rooted for Conchita who birthed a 28-week old baby, couldn't understand a word of
Jul 31, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
This book should come with a warning. I would hate for a 14 year old girl interested in midwifery to read this. I have read a lot of midwife memoirs, and they were nothing like this. It makes you want to take a shower. The rape of children, the systematic perversion of girls, detailed graphic public sex of a prostitute and multiple men. The author does well at describing what is seen, physically felt, and smelled. It is disgusting. If this book were made into a movie, it would be porn. I got a l ...more
Diane S ☔
Mar 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can't believe what hard lives many of these people lived. Such an interesting book, chronicling the life of one Midwife in the 1950's in the East End of London. Dockworkers and their families living in tenements, woman having baby after baby. Another book that makes one glad they live in this period of time. These woman had it so hard, trying to feed their families with no indoor plumbing or water and very little money. One old lady who lived in an abandoned building actually had toenails that w ...more
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read_2017
Man patika. Stāsts par Londonas nabadzīgo daļu - Īstendu 50.gadu beigās. Un tā nav Londonas nabadzība mūsdienu izpratnē, bet tāda skarba dzīve graustos vēl pārdesmit gadus pēc kara, mazos un pārapdzīvotos dzīvokļos, kur grūti ievērot personisko higiēnu. Tā ir vienkāršo doku strādnieku pasaule, kurā sievas iznēsā un dzemdē bērnus apstākļos, kas ir ļoti tālu no mūsdienu izpratnes par mātes un bērna aprūpi. Galvenā stāstniece ir jauna vecmāte, kas strādā klostera paspārnē, un viņa pieredz ga ...more
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nel 2009, due anni prima di morire, la levatrice e infermiera Jennifer Worth, completa la trilogia sui suoi giorni e sulle sue notti degli anni Cinquanta, nell’allora inguardabile East Side di Londra.
Questa è la prima raccolta di memorie.
Assordante, spassoso, delicato, lancinante. Attualizzabile. Soprattutto.
Lo Spirito risalta in controluce: “comunque lo si chiamasse”.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Jennifer Worth states in her introduction that she wrote this book in response to an article bemoaning the dearth of midwives in literature. An interesting claim, since in my perception, midwives are everywhere in literature. If you are writing a book with a historical setting and you want a female character with professional skills, you have few other options. Worth and I must not read the same books.

Worth has also said that her books were intended to be the midwives’ version of James Herriot,
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book. I borrowed it from a friend while in Dublin back in April thinking it may make for a nice read over the summer - I then found my flight back to the US cancelled (volcano) and myself slightly stranded at a hotel for three days. There's certainly worst places and worst conditions to be stranded in but I had already been travelling for nearly a month for work and missing my family terribly. I felt at an extreme low. I tried reading many things to distract me and pass the t ...more
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to give this five stars. I loved the way it began. Jennifer Worth has an amazing ability to write about her past in vivid language, bringing situations and characters to life. I laughed and cried over each situation she described. My mother is a midwife so none of the births or medical terms and language bothered me, then came the chapter about prostitution.
I have watched the series so I knew there was a story with a young Irish girl who was trapped by greedy, powerful men in a life of
Karen Wherlock
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I read it a couple of years ago, before I knew about the PBS series, which I also enjoyed. It took place beginning in 1958, just a year before I was born, in the poorest part of London. My mom grew up "working class" in London, in an upstairs flat in a terraced house, one of 6 children who lived. Three children did not. She was economically a step above the women portrayed in the book, but only a small one. The book describes a London still struggling to recover from war. Rati ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Birth Matters:  A Midwife's Manifesta
  • The Life and Times of Call the Midwife: The Official Companion to Season One and Two
  • A Midwife's Story
  • Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife
  • Nella Last's War: The Second World War Diaries of 'Housewife, 49'
  • Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart- A Midwife's Saga
  • Your Best Birth: Know All Your Options, Discover the Natural Choices, and Take Back the Birth Experience
  • The Midwife's Here! The Enchanting True Story of One of Britain's Longest Serving Midwives
  • Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali
  • Twelve Babies on a Bike: Diary of a Pupil Midwife
  • Labor of Love: A Midwife's Memoir
  • Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care
  • Period Piece
  • A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
  • Homebirth: The Essential Guide to Giving Birth Outside of the Hospital
  • Heart & Hands: A Midwife's Guide to Pregnancy & Birth
  • The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth
  • Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born
Worth, born Jennifer Lee while her parents were on holiday in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, was raised in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. After leaving school at the age of 14, she learned shorthand and typing and became the secretary to the head of Dr Challoner's Grammar School. She then trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and moved to London to receive training to become a midwife.


Other books in the series

The Midwife Trilogy (3 books)
  • Shadows of the Workhouse
  • Farewell to the East End: The Last Days of the East End Midwives
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